Book: American Gods

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American Gods

Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William Morrow

A master of inventive fiction, Neil Gaiman delves into the murky depths where reality and imagination meet. Now in American Gods, he works his literary magic to extraordinary results.

Shadow dreamed of nothing but leaving prison and starting a new life. But the day before his release, his wife and best friend are killed in an accident. On the plane home to the funeral, he meets Mr. Wednesday—a beguiling stranger who seems to know everything about him. A trickster and rogue, Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job as his bodyguard. With nowhere left to go, Shadow accepts, and soon learns that his role in Mr. Wednesday’s schemes will be far more dangerous and dark than he could have ever imagined. For beneath the placid surface of everyday life a war is being fought—and the prize is the very soul of America.

Shadow spent three years in prison, keeping his head down, doing his time. All he wanted was to get back to the loving arms of his wife and to stay out of trouble for the rest of his life. But days before his scheduled release, he learns that his wife has been killed in an accident, and his world becomes a colder place.

On the plane ride home to the funeral, Shadow meets a grizzled man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A self-styled grifter and rogue, Wednesday offers Shadow a job. And Shadow, a man with nothing to lose, accepts.

But working for the enigmatic Wednesday is not without its price, and Shadow soon learns that his role in Wednesday’s schemes will be far more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. Entangled in a world of secrets, he embarks on a wild road trip and encounters, among others, the murderous Czernobog, the impish Mr. Nancy, and the beautiful Easter—all of whom seem to know more about Shadow than he himself does.

Shadow will learn that the past does not die, that everyone, including his late wife, had secrets, and that the stakes are higher than anyone could have imagined.

All around them a storm of epic proportions threatens to break. Soon Shadow and Wednesday will be swept up into a conflict as old as humanity itself. For beneath the placid surface of everyday life a war is being fought—and the prize is the very soul of America.


American Gods is Neil Gaiman’s best and most ambitious novel yet, a scary, strange, and hallucinogenic road-trip story wrapped around a deep examination of the American spirit. Gaiman tackles everything from the onslaught of the information age to the meaning of death, but he doesn’t sacrifice the razor-sharp plotting and narrative style he’s been delivering since his Sandman days.

Shadow gets out of prison early when his wife is killed in a car crash. At a loss, he takes up with a mysterious character called Wednesday, who is much more than he appears. In fact, Wednesday is an old god, once known as Odin the All-father, who is roaming America rounding up his forgotten fellows in preparation for an epic battle against the upstart deities of the Internet, credit cards, television, and all that is wired. Shadow agrees to help Wednesday, and they whirl through a psycho-spiritual storm that becomes all too real in its manifestations. For instance, Shadow’s dead wife Laura keeps showing up, and not just as a ghost—the difficulty of their continuing relationship is by turns grim and darkly funny, just like the rest of the book.

Armed only with some coin tricks and a sense of purpose, Shadow travels through, around, and underneath the visible surface of things, digging up all the powerful myths Americans brought with them in their journeys to this land as well as the ones that were already here. Shadow’s road story is the heart of the novel, and it’s here that Gaiman offers up the details that make this such a cinematic book—the distinctly American foods and diversions, the bizarre roadside attractions, the decrepit gods reduced to shell games and prostitution. “This is a bad land for Gods,” says Shadow.

More than a tourist in America, but not a native, Neil Gaiman offers an outside-in and inside-out perspective on the soul and spirituality of the country—our obsessions with money and power, our jumbled religious heritage and its societal outcomes, and the millennial decisions we face about what’s real and what’s not. —Therese Littleton

Within just a few pages of Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods, he commandingly reveals that he is at his considerable best with this disturbing and dark journey into the hidden soul of America. Gaiman, one of the most talented and imaginative writers at work today, achieved nigh-legendary status with his comic Sandman, which took the genre to heights that even the equally talented Alan Moore had not attained; Gaiman’s subsequent career as a novelist has displayed the same glittering inventiveness and exquisite use of language.

Gaiman’s protagonist Shadow has patiently done his time in prison. But as the moment of his release approaches, he begins to sense that some unnamed disaster is lying in wait for him. As he makes his way home, he encounters the mysterious Mr Wednesday, who appears to be both a refugee from a distant country at war and the King of America. And perhaps even a god. As Shadow and Mr Wednesday begin a bizarre odyssey across the United States, solving murders is only one of their accomplishments. With an epic storm of supernatural origin brewing, one questions whether they will be destroyed before Shadow pays the price for grim mistakes in his past.

The use of language here is impeccable, and it is wedded to a surreal narrative that brings out the most quirky and unsettling aspects of Gaiman’s imagination. Forget Gaiman the Guru: just enjoy Gaiman the consummate writer:
He opened his mouth to catch the rain as it fell, moistening his cracked lips and his dry tongue, wetting the ropes that bound him to the trunk of the tree. There was a flash of lightning so bright it fell like a blow to his eyes, transforming the world into an intense panorama of image and after-image. The wind tugged at Shadow, trying to pull him from the tree, flaying him, cutting to the bone. Shadow knew in his soul that the real storm had truly begun…
Barry Forshaw

Barnes and Noble

In the introduction to his 1973 collection, Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison stated that “when belief in a god dies, the god dies,” yielding, inevitably, to deities who reflect the character and obsessions of their respective eras. Twenty-eight years later, Neil Gaiman (Stardust, Neverwhere, the Sandman series) has co-opted this notion, using it as the basis for his ambitious, altogether brilliant new novel, American Gods.

Gaiman’s hero is a troubled ex-convict named, appropriately, Shadow. When we first meet him, Shadow is serving a three-year sentence for aggravated assault. Just days before his parole takes effect, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a grotesque automobile accident. Alone and adrift, Shadow signs on as driver and bodyguard for an enigmatic grifter who calls himself, simply, Wednesday.

Wednesday, we learn, is a diminished, Americanized incarnation of the

Norse god Odin. He is one of a vast pantheon of transplanted gods carried to the New World in the minds and hearts of the endless waves of immigrants. Like most of his fellow gods, Odin/Wednesday has been largely forgotten, replaced by the gods of television, technology, and other icons of a changing world. With Shadow’s assistance, Wednesday takes steps to organize these displaced deities, to lead them in a war to the death with the gods of the new Millennium.

American Gods tells the story of that war, and of the hidden personal agendas that lie beneath it. It also tells the story of Shadow’s discovery—and gradual reclamation—of his own divided soul. Part road novel, part bildungsroman, part revisionist mythology, the narrative ranges across the American landscape, from the magical roadside attraction called The House on the Rock to a Wisconsin town whose picture-perfect surface conceals an ancient, grisly secret. It also takes behind the scenes of the mundane, everyday world, and introduces a credible gallery of gods, demons, and ordinary humans, some of them living, some dead.

Like all such extravagant epics, American Gods is—as Gaiman clearly acknowledges—a vast, multi-colored metaphor that has much to say about our ongoing need for meaning and belief and about the astonishing creative power of the human imagination. The result is an elegant, important novel that illuminates our world—and the various worlds that surround it—with wit, style, and sympathetic intelligence, and stands as one of the benchmark achievements in a distinguished, constantly evolving career. (Bill Sheehan)

I love reading anything written by Neil Gaiman. For me, it’s like swimming in an ocean. As I approached the first chapter of American Gods, waves of words gently washed over me, pulling me further in until I was completely submersed in a sea of constantly moving plots, moving me in ever-changing directions. There were no riptides to drown me, just an occasional high, cresting wave that carried me over to the next sequence. I was lulled into such a sense of comfort within Gaiman’s words that even when I got to passages that should have been horrifying, I just kept reading as if these events were perfectly normal everyday occurrences. Of course, later, when I reflected back on these scenes, I was stunned by my initial reaction and full horror did finally settle in.

Now onto the tale at hand, and believe me when I say it’s a big one. (A word of advice: Before reading, you may want to brush up on your mythology. There is a lot of it in here.) What would happen if you were a god and nobody worshipped you? In Gaiman’s world, gods require belief in themselves and worship in order to survive. It was getting harder and harder for the old gods to find people to pray to them and to give offerings. They were forced to find some rather unorthodox methods of receiving their required reverence. One goddess even turned to prostitution to get men to worship her.

To makes matter worse, there are new gods that people are turning to—gods of credit cards, gods of Internet, gods of television. These new gods are becoming more powerful—and darn cocky, too. They try to pick a fight with the old gods—an all-out battle for supremacy of the world.

Mr. Wednesday (better known as Odin) is an old god and needs help. He has to convince all of the old gods living in America to join him in the fray, to fight for the old ways and to triumph over the evil new gods.

Shadow has done his time. He’s due to get out of prison on Friday. On Tuesday, he’s called to the warden’s office, where he is told that he is being released later that very day. His wife, it seems, was just killed in an auto accident. As he makes his way out of prison and back home for his wife’s funeral, he meets up with Mr. Wednesday and Mad Sweeney. Mr. Wednesday hires him, and Mad Sweeney punches his lights out. And so begins Shadow’s bizarre journey into the present-day world of gods. Mr. Wednesday takes Shadow on a madcap ride around America, where he meets an interesting array of characters, including his own very dead wife, Laura. She comes to him the night of her funeral to announce that she will be looking out for him. How very pleasant for him!

In between destinations, Wednesday teaches Shadow how to grift. This, apparently, is their means of support to pay for meals and hotels. When they reach Madison, they go to the House on the Rock, where they meet up with several dozen assorted gods on a very special, very magical Carousel. Wednesday pleads his case, there is a heated debate and, in the end, nothing is decided. But Wednesday knows that the impending battle has to be won and, in order for that to happen, he needs as many gods on his side as he can get. So he and Shadow continue on their journey of enlistment.

American Gods is a book I could easily recommend to any reader, whether you like science fiction/fantasy or not. In fact, I have already done just that several times, because Gaiman makes anything he writes a pleasure to read. He transcends genre. He creates characters you can’t help but like, characters that inspire you, and characters you are just a bit leery of. He’s fun to read because there are so many different levels of meaning to his words. And he always throws in a few good laughs. But most of all, he is simply one of the best storytellers writing today. (Sharon Bosley)

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